The Forgetful Poet's Tale
I've probably mentioned before on this blog, that I do not have a good memory for anything useful like poetry, phone numbers or email addresses. I could memorise π (Pi) to 999,999 decimal places but I would stumble by the time I got six lines into a ten line poem. So when I was asked in mid-December whether I'd like to talk about blindness I jumped at the chance to talk for 40 minutes without being able to read a prompt card or to memorise the whole speech — I'm a sucker for being ambitious!
It wasn't as traumatic as I feared. I was going to talk about the things that I live with every day, so as long as I thought that I had enough to fill half an hour, I should be fine.
I sketched out a structure for my talk and mentally stuck different experiences into appropriate categories, as outlined in the remainder of this post:
A catchy start:
- Blindness doesn't usually lead to superhero hearing abilities, despite what the Daredevil film / TV series might suggest.
- Blind people do not avoid words like see and watching so please don't struggle to avoid asking me if I watched the Daredevil episode last night — I'm not going to get snarky and correct you “No, I listened to it actually.”
- It is fine to ask me if I've read a book. when I use my book reader (note that word, reader not voicer) I will tell you that I've read such and such book or newspaper.
My Journey into the Dark
My blindness didn't just happen all of a sudden. It was a very slow process that stretches back to when I was diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic at age 14. I learned to drive at age 31, so needed glasses to be able to do the following,
"You must be able to read (with glasses or contact lenses, if necessary) a car number plate made after 1 September 2001 from 20 metres.
You must also meet the minimum eyesight standard for driving by having a visual acuity of at least decimal 0.5 (6/12) measured on the Snellen scale (with glasses or contact lenses, if necessary) using both eyes together or, if you have sight in one eye only, in that eye."
In 2004 the optician prescribed me glasses that meant I met those standards, and she suggested I came in for a diabetic eye screening since I had only had one in my diabetic lifetime, just before I went to university at age 18. The photograph taken of the retina uses a fundus camera ... I did not find it a fun camera — as the shutter let the flash into my eye I promptly fainted at the shock. So when my optician suggested she would dilate my eyes to have a look into them I politely said that I'd come back another day, and went home and ignored that offer — I'm a braver poet than I am at medical things like cameras and eye drops!
I talked about moving to America in 2007, where I continued to work as a transportation planner in Atlanta, until the firm I joined got taken over by Jacobs Engineering Group, who already had an Atlanta office so began shutting down the office I was in, and me, being the last person in, was one of the first back out the door.
I always look on the bright side of life. This really couldn't have happened at a better time for me. I had started to have difficulty seeing the non-beeping green man at the crossing I needed to use to traverse the 4-lane road every morning to get to my office building. I also had begun to find it hard to do the visual mapping work needed for some of the projects I was working on. Because I had been laid off I was entitled to Unemployment insurance (a joint program of the federal and state governments) so it helped a little on the financial front.
What it did make a significant impact with happened when I turned up at the Department of Labor to sign on. I explained that I needed help to complete the forms because I did not have much sight anymore. They put me in touch with Center for the Visually Impaired in Atlanta, and I began a year of training on all angles of being blind, from activities of daily living (ADL) such as cooking, cleaning, labelling tins and boxes, using a washing machine; assistive technology such as computer screen magnification (which I was using at the time), computer screen reader software (for when my vision had decreased to the point where I could no longer use the screen magnification, and other talking devices; Braille; Men's Group (or Women's Group for the fairer sex); and finally job readiness.
The Path to Darkness
- Diagnosed diabetic at age 14.
- Loss of vision in my left eye.
- Unemployment in Atlanta
- Legally blind and starting to use a white cane.
- Beginning vision rehab training at Center for the Visually Impaired in Atlanta.
That brought me to the part I was most looking forward to — the talking technologies I use day in day out. I took the NVDA screen reader which I use on my laptop and tablet; my book reader that can read newspapers and magazines as well as audiobooks, all of which are available from the RNIB. I took in the new OrCam glasses that you've been reading about and hearing in action on this blog, and I took my talking SuperCheck blood glucose meter which demands “Apply blood now” before sweetly saying “Goodbye,” once she has told me my blood sugar level.
The glasses were the big hit. I started off by producing the packaging from the Sainsbury Vintage Cheddar Macaroni Cheese which I'd eaten the previous evening. Sometimes those packaging sleeves can be difficult for the glasses if fancy / cursive fonts are used and if the font size is too small, but on the macaroni cheese the glasses work pretty well, identifying the item as Vintage Cheddar Macaroni Cheese with Paprika and Herb Breadcrumbs, and on the back of the sleeve they can read the ingredients and the cooking instructions.
I then demonstrated them reading the children's poem, DinDins, which you have heard on this blog quite recently, but which is now on YouTube if you've missed it. Next up was the Booksense book reader, which is sadly no longer made but which is typical of book reading devices for the blind and visually impaired. I demonstrated it reading the end of the Saturday Telegraph Weekend section, which has the Pet Problems article, which was offering advice on apps that can measure your dog's heartrate, pulse and goodness knows what else. I also showed it reading an audiobook, using the opening sentences of JoJo Moyes' book Me Before You, which is one that I like a lot, though some members of the disability community do not like its subject matter.
As I planned out my talk I intended to end with the observation that blind people, even those that have been blind from birth, often have favourite colours. It is one of the few blindness matters I've written a poem about and I intended to finish off with that poem. I thought I'd have been struggling a little to talk for 40 minutes but it turned out that I had started to head into overtime! Somebody excused herself to go put the kettle on, so I rapidly wound my talk into the final Q&A and totally forgot about my colours poem! Like I say, I can remember oodles of any other information, but ask me to remember lines from a poem, or even that I intend to read a poem, and I'm as useful as a chocolate teapot! ;)
#Blindness #Diabetes #DiabeticRetinopathy #AssistiveTechnology #RNIB #OrCam #Booksense #SuperCheck #Abergavenny #FriendshipClub